Saturday, January 6, 2007


Idomeneo libretto (English translation)

2017 Radio NZ Concert network, 6.05-10.30
MOZART: Idomeneo
Set on the island of Crete in the aftermath of the Trojan War, the opera explores the motivations and emotions of humans whose fates seem beyond their own control
Idomeneo..................... Matthew Polenzani
Idamante...................... Alice Coote
Ilia................................ Nadine Sierra
Elettra.......................... Elza van den Heever
Arbace......................... Alan Opie
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/James Levine

In New Zealand, the MetOpera broadcast of 9/Dec/2006 is on 7/Jan/2007
Idomeneo = Kobie van Rensburg
Ilia = Dorothea Röschmann
Elettra = Alexandra Deshorties
Idamante = Magdalena Kozená (Czech Mezzo) woman in male role
James Levine, conductor
But the exciting bit is this:
High Priest, tenor, SIMON O’NEILL (Act 3, Scene 6, No 23


Words by Abbate Varesco, music by Wolfgang Mozart (K366).
Opera in 3 acts, first performed in 1781 in Munich.
Mozart’s tenth opera

In the Cretan palace
(It should be in Knossos, but it is in a mislocated “Sidon”)
[1] Ilia is alone, pondering over her infelicitous situation, as a Trojan princess who is captive in a Greek land, the island Crete. Opposing emotions are warring in her breast : hate and love and desire for revenge. She should be seeking to avenge the death of her father Priam, but Idomeneo spared her and sent her to Crete, and when her ship sank, Idomeneo’s son Idamante rescued her from the sea, and she fell instantly in love with him. And now she is subject to the demon of jealousy, because Idamante apparently loves Elektra, the Greek princess of Argos, daughter of the assassinated king Agamemnon, and sister of Orestes (and we know what murderous revenge they will ultimately take on their mother, but at present she is taking refuge in Crete).
Ilia’s aria: Padre, germani, addio!
Father, brothers, goodbye! You are has-beens (Voi foste), and I have lost you. Greece, you are the cause. And yet I adore one of the Greeks. As an ingrate to my bloodline I know I am guilty; but, ye Gods, I can not hate that countenance (of Idamante).

[2] Idamante comes in, asks for the Trojan prisoners to be assembled, so that all can celebrate the safe arrival of Idomeneo, since the Greek fleet has survived the storm at sea. He tells Ilia that he is releasing all the prisoners, and that will leave only one, himself, bound in the chains forged by her beauty. Vengeful Venus has punished the Greeks; look at Agamemnon’s fate; and now she has caused Ilia’s lovely eyes and charms to pierce his heart. Ilia retorts that she is not amused, under the circumstances (but we already know how she feels about him).
Idamante’s aria: Non ho colpo
I am not to blame, and you condemn me, my Idol, because I adore you. Yours is the blame, ye tyrannical gods, and I am dying of the pain you have inflicted for a fault that is not mine.
If you (Ilia) wish it, at your command I will tear open this breast of mine. I read it in your eyes, it is true, but tell me so with your lips, and I will ask no other favour.

Ilia’s response is to point to the Trojans: Behold the pitiful remnant of the Trojans, saved from the enemy’s fury.

[3] Chorus of Trojans and Cretans: Let us enjoy peace, let Love triumph.
[4] Elektra demurs, but Idamante rebukes her gently. Then Arbace brings the terrible news that Idomeneo has been drowned at sea. Elektra is left alone to vent her rage. Elektra’s aria: In my heart I feel all the furies of wild hell, far from such great torment are love, mercy, and pity. She who has robbed me of his heart and has betrayed my own, shall reap vengeance and cruelty from my fury.

The seashore, littered with ship-wrecks.
[5] Chorus: Pity, gods, pity. Help....
[6] Idomeneo alone, pondering over the terrible vow he has taken, to sacrifice the first person he sees when he reaches the land. (Remember Jephtah’s daughter?)
[7] The hapless victim comes along in all innocence. It is Idamante. Father and son do not recognize each other at first (he has been away at the war for many years); when they do,Idomeneo rushes off in anguish.
Idamante’s aria: Il padre adorato ritrovo, e lo perdo.
My beloved father I find, then I lose him. He flees from me angrily, trembling with horror. I thought I would die of joy and love, now, cruel gods, grief is killing me.
[8] Chorus: Nettuno s’onori. Let Neptune be honoured.

In the palace again
[10] Recitative. King Idomeneo, safely home at last, tells his confidant Arbace about the vow he had made to Neptune, to sacrifice the first one he met on the land (Crete, remember) if and when he survived; the good part is that it saved him from drowning in the storm at sea, but the bad bit is that the victim turned out to be his own only son, Idamante. Arbace’s proposed solution is to dispatch him overseas immediately, and Idomeneo decides to send him to Argos, to conduct Elektra to her homeland.
Arbace’s aria: Se il tuo duol, se il mio desio sen volassero del pari, a ubbidirti qual son io, saria il duol pronto a fuggir. If your grief and my desire hastened equally to obey you, as do I, then your grief would flee quickly (pronto).
[11] Recitative. Ilia (the Trojan princess) expresses her feelings to Idomeneo. She is glad he is back where he belongs; and he tries to relieve her sadness with an offering of friendship.
Ilia’s aria: Se il padre perdei, la patria il riposo, tu padre mi sei, soggiorno amoroso è Creta per me. Though I have lost my father, my fatherland, my repose, you are now my father, and a lovely resting place is Crete now for me.
[12] Alone, Idomeneo agonizes over his situation, he recognizes that Idamante and Ilia are close, and that three people will suffer because of his vow.
Idomeneo’s aria: Fuor del mar ho in mar in seno.... He has escaped from the raging sea, but now a sea rages in his breast.
[13] Elektra takes the stage, in a calmer state than normally, and enjoying the thought that she will be going off with Idamante, away from her rival Ilia.
Elektra’s aria: Idol mio, se ritroso altro amante a me ti rende, non m’offende rigoroso, più m’alletta austero amor. She is saying that she is quite happy to take her ‘idol’ from Ilia, and when he is out of Ilia’s sight she will be able to work her passionate love on him. (Of course, we know that she is handy with an ax, in line with our chip-chop-chop theme.)
[14] A dum-tum-ti-tum march takes us to the beach and the boats.

The harbour
[15] Chorus (Placido è il mar) and Elektra sing of a placid sea and a pleasant voyage; she is glad she came and is happy to go.
[16] Idomeneo, Idamante, and Elektra (Ilia is absent, waiting to sing the opening aria in Act 3, to the gentle breezes). It’s all Go, go, but you don’t go, and Addio. And sure enough another of Neptune’s storms comes out of nowhere.
[17] Chorus: Qual nuova terrore! Qual rauco muggito! they seem to be saying that the gods are terrorists and muggers (but muggito means ‘bellowing’ ). They want to know who the guilty one is (il reo), and we know it is the king (il re, but the librettist does not make that pun). Idomeneo confesses and offers his own life, declaring the gods to be unjust if they demand an innocent victim.
[18] Chorus: Corriam, fuggiamo, quel mostro spietato. Let’s run, let’s flee from this monstrous monster. If the producer is feeling generous we get a sea monster rising from the deep (but there is no cue for it in the stormy music).

In the royal garden
[19] Aria. Ilia is alone, unaware of all the tumult and turmoil on the beach, and thinking that Idamante is now sailing away; she laments over her unhappy love-life, addressing the flowers and the breezes. Zeffiretti lusinghieri, deh volate al mio tesoro, e gli dite, ch’io l’adoro. “Gratifying little zephyrs, please fly to my treasure and tell him that I adore him”. This is one piece in the opera that you may recognize; I associate it with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The words ‘e gli dite’ (“and to him say”) have always sounded like Eurydice to my ears, but that is another opera and more.
[20] Duetto. Idamante suddenly appears and informs Ilia that he has to kill a monster before he leaves, and he may die in the attempt. Ilia finally declares her love for him, and they sing a duet, culminating in the affirmation “Our love conquers everything” (Tutto vince il nostro ardor).
[21] Quartetto. “Oh Dearest, we are discovered”, says Ilia, as Idomeneo and Electra come in. Idomeneo urgently suggests that Idamante might like to betake himself to a far country, because of an unstated problem which Idomeneo has with Neptune. Ilia turns to Electra: “Ah, compassionate princess, comfort me”. “I comfort you?!” All Electra can think of is revenge. Ilia offers to go into exile with Idamante, but at the end of the quartet he wanders off alone.
[22] Aria. Arbace reports that there is a mass demonstration outside the palace, led by the high priest of Neptune. He soliloquizes at length about the crisis, finally toying with the idea of offering himself as a placatory sacrifice.
In front of the palace
[23] Recitativo. The priest remonstrates with Idomeneo: the monster is rampaging and the carnage is everywhere. Who will be the human sacrifice that Neptune is demanding? Idomeneo announces that it is Idamante.
[24] Chorus. This is monstrous, they all cry (without committing that monstrosity of a punning crime), and the priest prays: “O clement heaven, the son is innocent, the vow is inhuman; stay the hand of the faithful father”.
Outside the temple of Neptune
[25] March. We move on to the temple of Neptune, where the ax and the block are brought in. What hope is there for the hapless victim now?
[26] Cavatina. Idomeneo and the priests ask Neptune to receive their sacrifice, and withhold his wrath, They are interrupted by the news, announced by Arbace, that Idamante has killed the monster, but this is likely to make the king of the sea even angrier.
[27] Recitativo. The conquering hero tells his father (at great length in a touching duet) that he is ready for the chop. Idomeneo raises the ax, but Ilia leaps in and restrains him. The High priest gets another line! “Pray do not disturb the sacrifice.”She introduces a new twist: “Pick me”. She is innocent, too, and surely the Greek gods would prefer to kill an enemy of Greece.
[28] The earth trembles, the statue of Neptune moves (showing that he has been moved), and a resounding voice declares that Love has won (Ha vinto Amore), and a few changes will be made around here. Idamante shall now rule the roost, and Ilia shall be his consort.
[29] The general reojicing is not shared by Elektra; she is horrified that Idamante will be in her rival’s embrace. “Oh frenzy, oh fury.” She will join her brother Orestes in the dark pit of despair. (And we know that they will be using an ax that finds its guilty victim.) She departs infuriated (parte infuriata). But, if we are lucky we will get a rage aria here.
[30] Recitativo. Idomeneo gives his last royal decree, a proclamation of peace, and abdicates gracefully. He is sometimes allowed to sing an aria here. Idamante is crowned king.
[31] Coro. “Descend Amor, descend Hymen, and Juno”, to join the royal couple in peace. And they will live happily ever after. FINE!

Finally, all that silly fuss about severed heads of prophets in the German production of Idomeneo: of course, the ax is ever ready on the stage, and we know it happened to John the Baptizer, but the Buddha never lost his head, nor did the Arabian Prophet. Some scholars talk about an axial age in religious history, in the Iron Age, but that is anachronistic, too, and totally axidental.

Example of a video recording: Glyndebourne, 1983.

Idomeneo, King of Crete, Philip Langridge, tenor
Idamante, son of Idomeneo, Jerry Hadley (blond) male tenor
Ilia, captive Trojan princess, daughter of King Priam, Yvonne Kenny (blonde)
Elettra (Elektra), Grecian princess, daughter of King Agamemnon, Carol Vaness
Arbace, confidant of King Idomeneo, Thomas Hemsley
High Priest of Neptune, Anthony Roden
Glyndebourne Chorus, directed by Jane Glover
London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bernard Haitink
This version lasts three hours This is another piece in our 2006 Mozart celebrations, in our video-opera group in Palmerston North.

We also added Idomeneo to our Trojan collection: Les Troyens of Berlioz and La Belle Hélène of Offenbach; Idomeneo was one of the kings who fought against Troy. He took some Trojan prisoners, including Princess Ilia. Her name Ilia shows her connection with Troy, also known as Ilias (hence Homer’s Iliad). Note the name Elektra. Yes, that is the wild one in Richard Strauss’s eponymous opera. Incidentally, Strauss made an arrangement of Mozart’s Idomeneo, in an attempt to revive it. This Mozart work is not at all familiar to most of us; even the overture is not readily recognizable.

In this Glyndebourne production I can highlight two features which give authentic Cretan background: artistic details copied from the walls of the palace at Knossos in Crete; the double-bladed axes, which are used for the sound A (A is for ax) in the Cretan script (the pictorial signary, and its derivatives Linear A and B, and Linear C on Cyprus, all of which have an important place in my research on ancient writing systems). This A-reference is fitting for an alpha-rated opera (so classified by Denis Forman in his cheeky but informative book: The Good Opera Guide (1994). Some might say I have copied his irreverent style, but the truth is that I was already corrupted before

Notice the presence of Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny (seen in Wellington as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier a few years ago); I have heard her say that singing Mozart is not easy, though she does a splendid job on this occasion.
Brian Colless

Have a look and a listen (Simon as Parsifal):
And tell him how much you appreciate him:

For a libretto (among hundreds of others, but you have to become a subscriber now, in 2009) go to:
However, there is no translation into English, and to print it out would take a ream of pages. It is really for following on the screen while you listen.


  1. Libretto in English here:

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